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Cuomo takes women's equality message on the road

10-point plan draws mixed reviews

Wednesday, June 5, 2013
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, talks with attorney Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe vs. Wade, after a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo released a bill Tuesday that details his women's rights proposal for the first time since he announced the initiative six months ago. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, talks with attorney Sarah Weddington, who argued Roe vs. Wade, after a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol on Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo released a bill Tuesday that details his women's rights proposal for the first time since he announced the initiative six months ago. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

— Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be talking about his newly released women's rights proposal at two upstate New York locations that played key roles in the development of women's rights and higher education for women.

The governor plans to discuss his women's equality bill this afternoon at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls in the Finger Lakes region. Afterward he'll head to the Hudson Valley, where he'll speak at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie.

His 10-point proposal calling for women's rights protections from the work place to the shadowy world of human trafficking was endorsed by several women's advocates Tuesday, but faces strong opposition in the Senate over its abortion provisions.

Cuomo released the bill Tuesday, detailing his women's rights proposal for the first time since he announced the initiative six months ago in his State of the State speech.

The bill calls for equal pay for equal work, ending discrimination in employment and housing to pregnant women and single mothers, better protections for domestic violence victims, and sexual harassment enforcement at even the state's smallest businesses.

The legislation also would make it easier to prosecute child prostitution and crack down on discrimination by landlords against women using rent subsidies.

"There is a bias in this society against women and it is sweeping," Cuomo said. "And we're not going to allow it."

But among the many provisions, opponents zeroed in on the governor's proposed changes to abortion laws.

Cuomo's proposal would allow late-term abortions until "viability" or "to protect the health and life of the woman."

New York's current law was written before the landmark Roe v. Wade court decision in 1973 and the subsequent federal law that legalizes late-term abortions when a woman's health is in danger. The state law sets a higher threshold, allowing a woman to have an abortion after six months of pregnancy if her life is in danger.

Although the federal law prevails, the more restrictive state law remains on the books and women's rights advocates fear a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court could strike down the federal law.

Cuomo's bill would also remove the regulation of abortion by criminal laws and, instead, place it under health law. Republicans say that provision would allow people other than doctors to perform abortions without facing arrest.

Kelly Cummings, a spokeswoman for Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, said Cuomo's abortion proposal is unnecessary. She called it "a political maneuver designed to curry favor with the extremists who want to expand late-term abortion, and open the door to non-physicians performing abortions."

"It's wrong for New York," she said.

However, she said, Republicans support many of the governor's other proposals, including tougher human trafficking and domestic violence laws and "insisting on a zero tolerance for sexual harassment."

The Independent Democratic Conference, which shares majority control of the Senate, supports Cuomo's measure and seeks to add paid maternity leave and other proposals, but says members are concerned by the rhetoric.

"We hope that abortion does not become a political football used to divide legislators or the public on the rest of these important issues," IDC spokesman Eric Soufer said.

About 300 people rallied outside the Capitol as part of Cuomo's final push for the proposal in the legislative session that ends June 20. A rally by opponents is planned June 12.

The Democratic governor said anyone who opposes his bill is "anti-choice," a risky political label in a state that overwhelmingly supports abortion rights. He also accused opponents of fear mongering.

But Michael Benjamin, a political commentator and former Democratic assemblyman who is pro-abortion rights, said, "Name-calling isn't leadership." He added: "Abortion rights aren't under attack in New York and are not likely to be."

Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said after seeing the statement from Skelos' office: "Who is he calling extremists? It's disappointing to see Dean Skelos and their spokespeople characterize 80 percent of New Yorkers as extremists."

She cited a March Siena College poll that showed 80 percent support for abortion rights, three months ago. Cuomo's proposal was broadly described in the poll question as "aimed at protecting reproductive freedom for women, ensuring a woman's right to make private health care decisions regarding pregnancy."

Seneca Falls was the site of the First Women's Rights Convention in 1848. Vassar was a women-only college for more than a century.

 

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